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Calligraphic Jackson Pollock coming to Lehigh

Koji Kakinuma

Koji Kakinuma, a celebrated Japanese avant-garde artist and grand-scale calligrapher, will bring his unique brand of creativity to Lehigh, where he will participate in a series of events slated for the week of April 23-27.

Kakinuma’s visit to Lehigh is being organized by ArtsLehigh, the university-wide program that links art, learning and life, and will follow the program’s ArtSpree spring celebration of creativity from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 22.

ArtSpree is an event that showcases student achievement in the creative and performing arts at Lehigh. Visitors to ArtSpree will see achievements from academic departments, programs, student clubs and an inside look into the environment that nurtures the learning experience at Lehigh.

Events include a juried art show, music and theatre performances in four simultaneous locations inside Lehigh’s Zoellner Arts Center, tours of outdoor sculptures, media art installations, digital media projects, open studios and tours of the facilities where much of the creative work of Lehigh takes place.

During Kakinuma’s visit to Lehigh, he will lead several traditional calligraphy workshops, and performance events that include a black-light performance titled “Trancework” on Wednesday, April 25; a “Guerrilla Art Workshop” on Thursday, April 26; and an intense, physical performance of large-brush calligraphy titled “Eternal Now” on Friday, April 27.

“His visit will provide a rare opportunity for Lehigh students,” says Silagh White, the administrative director of ArtsLehigh. “Not only is he one of the most respected artists in his genre in the world, but he is very accessible. In fact, the Guerilla Art Workshop is designed to involve as many people as possible in the actual creation of art, instead of a passive observer.”

Originally trained to honor the constraints of expertly executed calligraphy and traditional Japanese art, Kakinuma’s creative passion quickly inspired him to evolve beyond conventional standards and develop a style that transforms the written word into abstract images. He is perhaps best known for his innovative, experimental interpretations of art, illustrated by the monumental works he creates with a large paint brush.

“To witness the intensity of the moment when Kakinuma heaves the large brush—which weighs more than 150 pounds—onto the fabric, and then executes the character in swift, dramatic motion is to more fully understand the physical moment of the artists’ creation,” White says.

A cult figure in Japan

Norman Girardot, University Distinguished Professor of Comparative Religions and faculty director of ArtsLehigh, describes Kakinuma as an amazingly precocious artist.

“He comes from a distinguished lineage of renowned calligraphers, including his father, Suiyi, and two well-known teachers,” Girardot says. “As a result of his meteoric rise in creative circles, he’s become something of a cult figure who is very well known in Japan. We are extremely fortunate to have him here at Lehigh and to provide our students and members of the local community with the opportunity to participate in the creation of his extraordinary art.”

Kakinuma, whom Girardot calls a “calligraphic Jackson Pollock,” produces work that transforms calligraphy into a “kind of transnational abstract expressionism where the written word becomes pure image.

“Clearly, there is a connection here, especially in what he calls his massive works and mantra-like trancework paintings,” Girardot says. “And you see this not only with the unbridled freedom of Pollock, but also with the grand East Asian spiritual traditions of Zen and Daoism.”

His ability to channel the pure flow of movement to produce something with a unique rhythm and life all its own, Girardot adds, “results in a dynamic convergence of disciplined chaos, dramatic license and performative bravado within an unforgiving physical matrix that makes all conventional meaning impossible.”

Kakinuma is currently an artist-in-residence in Princeton’s East Asian studies department. A friend of ArtsLehigh, Ellen Bearn, is credited with suggesting that Lehigh bring Kakinuma to the university during the artist’s time in the states.

“When he initially came to meet with us to discuss his visit, we immediately saw the potential for the creative opportunities to work on non-traditional projects that will engage and inspire the broader campus community,” White says. “We know he is excited to go beyond the constrictions of calligraphic art and create something extraordinarily unique here at Lehigh.”

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, April 20, 2007

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